New England Region Roundup

Massachusetts Narratives Set Stage for Tight Senate Race

Posted March 16, 2012 at 12:27pm





Gov. Dan Malloy (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 7
2008 Presidential Vote:
Obama 61%/McCain 38%


Open Seat: Joe Lieberman (I) is retiring.

Outlook: Likely Democratic

Rep. Christopher Murphy (D) is favored to succeed Lieberman, but two fascinating primaries are shaping up in the Nutmeg State.

On the GOP side, wounds are still raw from the 2010 Republican Senate primary. Former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon ultimately prevailed, but it got nasty with former Rep. Rob Simmons. McMahon is running again, and Simmons is backing former Rep. Christopher Shays. Prepare for a brutal, personal primary between the two.

McMahon spent $47 million of her own fortune last cycle, but so far her self-financing has been limited.

Shays deliberated hard before launching his bid and gives off a sense of fearlessness when it comes to facing McMahon’s deep pockets.

On the Democratic side, Murphy, the national favorite, has overshadowed
EMILY’s List-backed former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. State Rep. William Tong is also seeking the party’s nomination. The Murphy-Bysiewicz matchup has put national Democrats in an awkward position, as they pride themselves on nurturing female Senate candidates. But there is little doubt that Murphy is their man.

As for the general, Shays exhibits certainty in his campaign.

“If I win the primary, I believe I can win the general,” a confident Shays said in the fall.

National Democrats say they don’t believe that’s true, and it’s not clear that top GOP strategists are convinced either. Republicans give no indication at this point that they will make a serious play for Lieberman’s seat, which is favored to stay in the Democratic column.


5th district | Open seat: Christopher Murphy (D) is running for Senate.

Outlook: Likely Democratic

Little changed for the 5th in redistricting, and it remains the state’s only competitive seat.

Both sides are stacked with candidates.

The Democratic field has three major contenders, each of whom brings the ability to raise funds to the table. State Speaker Christopher Donovan has establishment support and is the early favorite to win the nomination. Former state Rep. Elizabeth Esty has the backing of Democratic fundraising juggernaut EMILY’s List. Political newcomer Dan Roberti has family and professional connections, not to mention he was recently endorsed by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.). Each Democrat raised about $200,000 in the fourth quarter and has $500,000 to $600,000 in cash on hand.

Republicans are also lining up to run for the seat. State Sen. Andrew Roraback made a splash when he entered the race in late October. Businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley is also raising eyebrows with strong fundraising and a willingness to put her personal finances behind her campaign. Others in the Republican field include veteran Justin Bernier, who ran unsuccessfully in 2010, and real estate developer Mark Greenberg.

The 5th district was held by a Republican before Murphy. But in a presidential year, and with Murphy likely to be on the ballot, too, Democrats have the advantage.


Gov. Paul LePage (R)

2012 Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 58%/McCain 40%


Open seat: Olympia Snowe (R) is retiring.

Outlook: Leans Independent

Earthquake. Curveball. Blindside. Bombshell. Pick your metaphor. Whatever it is, Snowe threw Washington, D.C., and Maine politics into total chaos when she announced her retirement two weeks before the state’s filing deadline.

With the dust beginning to settle, the most popular candidate appears to be neither Democratic nor Republican. It is former Gov. Angus King (I).
His candidacy was feared enough to make Rep. Chellie Pingree (D) sit out the race. King has been disinclined so far to give any hint of which party, if either, he’d caucus with if elected. His rhetoric is an odd brand of passionate moderation, and his partisan record is mixed.
As of press time, the four major GOP contenders in the mix are Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers, state Treasurer Bruce Poliquin, state Attorney General William Schneider and former state Senate President Rick Bennett.

The Democrats running are former Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap and state Sen. Cynthia Dill. On both sides, state party operatives will whisper that their candidates are the B team. But neither national party has given any indication it will lend organizational might to King, nor does he seem to want the help. Popularity aside, running for governor and for Senate are two completely different beasts. How King takes on both party establishments and builds a fundraising base is uncharted territory in Maine politics.

There is also the consideration of how to game out a three-way general election. The Tossup rating is a holding place until more of these questions get sorted out and we figure out just how competitive the race will be.


2nd district | Incumbent: Mike Michaud (D)

5th term (55 percent) | Outlook: Likely Democratic

Both Michaud and his challenger, state Senate President Kevin Raye (R), seriously considered running for Snowe’s open Senate seat.

Both opted to run for the House. Part of the calculus was that if either one of the men chose to run for Senate, the 2nd district seat would be much more difficult for their party to win.

This race will be a rematch of 2002, when Michaud was first elected to Congress. The Democrat won with 52 percent of the vote, but it was his closest Congressional race to date.

A January internal poll from the Michaud camp showed the incumbent up big, but Raye is a serious candidate who is building a serious organization.

The new lines are almost identical to those of the past decade. Of the two Maine districts, the 2nd is the more competitive. Michaud should win, but it’s a race that might be worth watching as it develops later this year.


Gov. Deval Patrick (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 11
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 62%/McCain 36%


Incumbent: Scott Brown (R)

1st term (52 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Brown, a Republican who voted with his party only 54 percent of the time in 2011, must convince more than half of the voters in this strongly Democratic, but not strongly liberal, state that he deserves a full term. So far, he appears to be doing pretty well at that task, with almost $13 million in the bank at the end of 2011 and recent polls showing him with a comfortable approval rating and besting presumptive Democratic nominee Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard University professor and consumer advocate.

Brown’s team wants to portray him as an independent, hardworking, regular guy who embraces bipartisanship to solve big problems, and if that story line has a year’s worth of sticking power, Brown’s chances of coming back in 2013 increase. But state and national Democrats want to tie Brown to unpopular national Republican leaders. They hope to chip away at his independent image by accentuating all the times he has voted with the Senate Republican Conference, while overlooking the Democratic measures he supported, such as financial reform and the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy banning openly gay service members.

Warren has her own narrative that her opponents will try to debunk. On the stump she says she grew up “on the ragged edge of the middle class” and has spent her life fighting against entrenched interests for the sake of the millions of middle-class families like hers. Warren led the creation of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, but Republicans will paint the former White House adviser as an out-of-touch Harvard elitist. Her extremely strong fundraising ­— she raised a whopping $8.9 million from
Aug. 16 until the end of 2011 — means she’ll have plenty of resources to tell her story. And the potent enthusiasm Massachusetts’ liberal base has for her shouldn’t be underestimated as an important factor in the race.

That enthusiasm was strengthened by a white-hot debate over Brown’s vote in favor of the controversial contraceptive care amendment authored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), which Warren slammed. Neither campaign, however, expects the issue to be front-and-center come November.

Both candidates have signed a pledge to attempt to keep outside interests from advertising to influence the race. The “People’s Pledge” has worked so far, but watch for it to become an issue as the campaign heats up.

Although narrative may drive the campaign, numbers will determine the winner. Democrats believe that in a state President Barack Obama will carry by double digits, Brown will have a steep hill to climb to hit 50 percent. But Republicans see a path to pulling in enough independents, blue-collar Democrats and Republicans to win. In 2010, more than half of the registered voters in the Bay State were unaffiliated with either political party, 36 percent were Democrats and 11 percent were Republicans.

Watch this race. It’s going to be close.


4th district | Open seat: Barney Frank (D) is retiring.

Outlook: Safe Democratic

Get ready for the return of Camelot. Attorney Joseph Kennedy III, 31, the son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.), is the prohibitive favorite to win this reconfigured district that runs from the Fall River in the south to the city of Brookline, next to Boston. Despite his age, he’s seen by Democrats in the state as a surprisingly good campaigner. The district is heavily Democratic, and Kennedy should have no trouble knocking off whoever wins the GOP primary contest: psychiatrist Elizabeth Childs or 2010 nominee Sean Bielat, who lost to Frank by 11 points.

6th district | Incumbent: John Tierney (D)

8th term (57 percent) | Outlook: Leans Democratic

Even in the wave election year of 2010, Bay State Republicans couldn’t win a single district in Massachusetts. Indeed, they haven’t won a seat in the commonwealth since 1994. But this year, Tierney’s family legal troubles, a particularly strong challenger and a redrawn independent-leaning district give them a real shot at a pickup.

Former state Sen. Richard Tisei, the 2010 GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, is the presumptive nominee to take on Tierney.Tisei, who represented part of the 6th for a quarter of a century in the state Legislature, has a political ideology that fits the newly configured district, which covers the northeastern part of the state and would have voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and the GOP nominee for governor in 2010. Openly gay, Tisei is libertarian on social issues and is fiscally conservative. His fourth-quarter fundraising cemented his position as a serious challenger: He raised $312,000 to Tierney’s $161,000.

The Congressman, who raised only $71,000 of his quarterly haul from individuals, has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but Democratic and Republican strategists in the state agree that his political brand is suffering because of the legal troubles his wife and her family have faced.

Patrice Tierney pleaded guilty in 2010 to “willful blindness” in filing false federal tax returns for one brother’s allegedly illegal gambling ring and served a month in jail. She testified last year at the trial of another brother, who was found guilty of racketeering and illegal gambling charges. At the recent trial, spousal privilege was invoked and she avoided answering some questions about her husband. The controversy alone won’t sink Tierney ­— he easily won re-election in 2010 right after his wife’s guilty plea — but it won’t help him either.

If Tisei can keep raising big money and runs a smart, disciplined campaign, he has a fair shot at winning. But Tierney has all the advantages of incumbency and will be boosted by Democratic turnout in a presidential year with Obama, who remains popular in Massachusetts, on the top of the ballot. In the end, the race will probably be won less on messaging and more on voter targeting and turnout.

Still, this matchup offers something that is rare in the Bay State: a competitive House race.

New Hampshire

Gov. John Lynch (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 54%/McCain 45%


The Granite State will be one of the last to complete redistricting. The holdup is that the state Legislature delegated the task of redrawing the state’s one Congressional line to the two Republican Members, Reps. Frank Guinta and Charles Bass.

Per local reports, the two men cannot come to an agreement. Bass is calling for a more substantial change, while Guinta wants to keep the population redistribution limited to a few hundred people.

Regardless of the lines, neither Republican incumbent is polling well. Bass is the more endangered of the two. In a very good Republican year, Bass just barely beat lawyer Ann McLane Kuster (D). She is running again, and the only thing as big as the game she’s talking is her fundraising.

The conventional wisdom is that Guinta is in marginally better shape, but the two seats have a history of swaying together. Guinta is building up a notable war chest, but he faces a rematch with former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, whom he unseated. But Shea-Porter has a primary and isn’t guaranteed to be the Democratic nominee. She has a fundraising advantage over her fellow Democrats, former financial executive Joanne Dowdell and businessman Andrew Hosmer.

Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I)

2012 Electoral Votes: 4
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 63%/McCain 35%


Incumbent: Sheldon Whitehouse (D)

1st term (54 percent): Outlook: Safe Democratic

Republicans are not looking to launch a serious challenge to Whitehouse. Newport resident and political neophyte Barry Hinckley is running and appears to be the Republicans’ sacrificial lamb.

The man whom Whitehouse unseated in 2006 is now Rhode Island’s governor. But don’t expect this noncompetitive race to garner anything close to the headlines that the 2006 contest did.


1st district | Incumbent: David Cicilline (D)

1st term (51 percent) | Outlook: Tossup

Republicans smell blood with Cicilline, and this seat should not be in play.

The reason is the incumbent. Although he is in a solidly Democratic seat, Cicilline has struggled in his first term. Before coming to Congress, he was mayor of Providence. Soon after he was sworn in to the House, it was revealed that the city was in dire fiscal straits. Cicilline was on the receiving end of the blame, and his favorability ratings plummeted.

He was worried enough that he pushed for a major realignment of the state’s single Congressional line in redistricting.

Businessman and self-funder Anthony Gemma, who ran in the 2010 Democratic primary, will likely challenge Cicilline again. The winner of that race will face former Rhode Island Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty. Should Cicilline’s weaknesses stabilize or should he lose the primary, the outlook should change so that it better matches the Democratic-friendly seat’s demographics.


Gov. Peter Shumlin (D)

2012 Electoral Votes: 3
2008 Presidential Vote: Obama 67%/McCain 30%


Incumbent: Bernie Sanders (I)

1st term (65 percent) | Outlook: Safe Independent

Sanders, whose fundraising has taken off since his “Filibernie” moment in the spotlight, has no substantive GOP opposition yet and should be easily re-elected to a second term.


At-large | Incumbent: Peter Welch (D)

3rd term (65 percent) | Outlook: Safe Democratic

Welch faces no fierce Republican challenge for his seat, and barring a surprise, he’s a safe bet to return for the 113th Congress.